NAIROBI – Two organizations in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region have accused the army of carrying out airstrikes there in recent days which they say have killed hundreds of civilians, just as peace talks on the separate conflict of Tigray were about to begin.
Government and military spokespersons on Thursday did not respond to requests for comment on the accusations made by the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and banned the Oromo armed splinter group Liberation Army (OLA).
Reuters also spoke to a civilian in Oromiya, which is located in western Ethiopia and surrounds the federal capital Addis Ababa, who said he witnessed an airstrike on Sunday in which around 60 people , including her uncle, were killed.
The Oromiya, home to Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group with more than 40 million people, has experienced unrest for many years, rooted in grievances about marginalization and the neglect of the federal government, which has at times cracked down on the region.
The violence there is distinct from the two-year war between the federal government and regional forces in the northern Tigray region, the subject of African Union-brokered peace talks that began in South Africa on Tuesday.
In statements sent to Reuters by text and email and in posts on Twitter, the OLF and the OLA listed locations in Oromiya where they said a series of deadly airstrikes took place between Thursday last week and Tuesday this week.
“The combined civilian death toll is in the hundreds,” said a statement purporting to be from the “OLF–OLA High Command.” He said schools and other civilian targets were hit.
The resident who spoke to Reuters, who did not wish to be named for fear of government reprisals, said he witnessed an airstrike on Sunday in the West Shewa area, a neighborhood east of east of Oromiya, near Addis Ababa.
Reached by telephone on Tuesday, he said his uncle and around 60 other people had died in the strike and around 100 had been injured.
“I just got back from the funeral of a 16-year-old who was there. We’ve been going to funerals the whole time,” he said, adding that another airstrike hit a nearby school on Monday, but no one had been killed as it was empty at that time.
The resident said there had been sporadic ground fighting in the area over a long period, but this was the first time people in his village had come under air attack.
On Thursday morning, Reuters asked Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu, military spokesman Colonet Getnet Adane, Prime Minister’s spokesman Abiy Ahmed Billene Seyoum and Oromiya Regional Government spokesman Hailu Adugna to comment on the alleged airstrikes.
OLA Spokesman Odaa Tarbii posted a video on Twitter on Tuesday purporting to show the aftermath of an airstrike in West Shewa.
The graphic video showed at least eight dead bodies, several with bloody gashes, as well as injured people lying on the ground as others tried to help them. Reuters was unable to independently verify the content or authenticity of the video.
The OLF is a political party that was banned in the past but returned from exile after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who is of mixed Oromo-Amhara descent, took office in 2018. The OLA is an illegal splinter group from OLF.
Many Oromos hoped their situation would improve after helping Abiy rise to power, but have since been disappointed with the prime minister.
While the problems in Oromiya are distinct from those that escalated into war in Tigray, the OLA last year forged an alliance with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the party that dominates Tigray. This alarmed the government and intensified the crackdown on the OLA.